Story and photos by Courtney Johnson
ISSUE #23, Summer 2004 – With the close of the 2004 Ralph’s Half IRONMAN, plans for 2005 are under way including moving the race to early March. The 2004 highlights for Ralph’s included last minute entry Michelle Jones sweeping away Heather Fuhr’s reigning title, the over five minute separation between the second and third place men, and auto racer Tony Kanaan finishing his first half IRONMAN in under six hours.
The men’s race was won by Francois Chabaud in 4:01:04 who passed second place finisher Luke Bell on the bike. Michael Lovato of Boulder, who had an impressive 2003 with a win at IRONMAN Coeur d’Alene and a ninth place finish at Hawaii, finished in 4:11:10. Michael excited the water 18th and biked his way to fifth. He held on the run and ended up fifth. His biggest mistake of the day was that he neglected his nutrition on the bike.
“I neglected my nutrition and it lead to a serious bonk on the run. I faded pretty badly and ended with that slow-down, blurry, molasses running that always leaves a bit of a sour taste in my mouth. And all that said, it wasn’t that long ago that I would bonk in a race like this and finish fifteenth or worse. To still finish in the top-five indicates that I am on the right path.”
Will Ronco, also a pro from Boulder, finished 46th in 4:35:56.
In the women’s race Boulder native Monica Caplan was first out of the water for the women in 25:09. Extremely happy with her swim, Nicole DeBoom from Lyons followed only one second behind. “Ralph’s is early in the season, so things can be hit or miss. Surprisingly, I had the best swim of my pro career. It felt effortless and so short. Usually the swim takes forever,” said Nicole.
Boulder’s Amanda Gillam came out of the water in 16th. “I had no idea I came out of the water 16th,” recalls Amanda. “What I did realize, was that I had an exceptional swim. I didn’t think I was capable of swimming with Heather Fuhr and Heather Gollnick.”
Nicole passed Monica early on the bike and lead for most of it. “The bike was solid,” said Nicole. “I tried to hold back so I wouldn’t die the second half on all those hills. Even with that conservative approach, I could tell that my fitness wasn’t quite there after about two hours of riding.”
Amanda Gillam also felt a lack of fitness on the bike. “When I realized I came out of the water with Gollnick and Fuhr, I jumped on my bike as quickly as possible and I had a good bike leg. This past winter, I swam and ran a lot but neglected my bike a bit. I had been riding four days a week this winter and I felt the lack of bike fitness with about ten miles to go.”
Monica Caplan passed Nicole back during the run and went on to place third in 4:39:16. Nicole struggled on the run and ended up fifth in 4:40:54. “Within the first half mile of the run, I knew I would struggle out there,” she recalls. “I just didn’t have enough running in my legs yet this season. It never felt good, never smooth and never comfortable.”
Amanda Gillam was sixth overall in 4:43:05. In 2003, she was 10th and she commented on the big difference between this year and last. “This year I wasn’t nervous like last year. Last year, I was so nervous the week before that I could barely eat. My stomach was doing flip-flops just thinking about the race. I couldn’t eat the morning of the race last year. I also had a hard time getting my nutrition down during the race. I am a lot more confident now when I am racing, because I have a year of racing professionally under my belt and Dave Scott in my corner. Fortunately my confidence showed this year at Ralph’s.”
Being the first race of the season wasn’t the only challenge out there, especially for Denver resident Dr. Jeff Sankoff. While ascending the first hill, his rear hub broke. He remembered thinking of calling it a day but was overcome by the thought “I didn’t come all this way to DNF!” Jeff walked back to the start where Les from Inside Out Sports loaned him a wheel. Back on the bike and twenty miles in, a guy in front of him fish-tailed his rear wheel and fell off the side of his bike. Jeff stopped to help stabilize the man’s neck till the ambulance arrived. Jeff did finally make it to the finish line that day. Jeff is training for IRONMAN Canada, racing and raising money for Team in Training in honor of two friends with Leukemia.
With all the ups and downs of the day, perhaps the best part was the awards ceremony. Colorado was represented well in many age groups, the men’s 25-29 standing out. First place went to Tim Hola from Highlands Ranch who led the age group from start to finish in 4:33:15. Second place went to A.J. Johnson also from Highlands Ranch who was eighth out of the water, passing 6 guys on the bike and in transition to finish in 4:36:39.
Tim, who qualified for Hawaii in Florida, was happy to turn to A.J. and offer the Hawaii spot, which A.J. gladly accepted. “It’s nice to have the spot early in the year. I spent hours on the computer trying to find places to stay for my wife, my family and myself. A lot of places are already booked. Aside from that, I am excited to be going to Hawaii for the first time. And now, I can go to the Florida half and just have fun with my family!”
Other notable Colorado finishes were Mark Lesinski from Evergreen who was first and earned the Hawaii spot in the male 45-49 age group, Diane Ridgeway from Arvada who won the women’s 55-59 age group and qualified for Hawaii, Karen Melliar Smith of Denver who was fifth in the women’s 25-29 age group, Michelle Gross of Denver who was third in the 40+ Athena category and Steve Roberts of Boulder who was fourth in the male 55-59 age group.